Bill Lee

Lee proposes 1-month pause in sales tax on groceries

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to propose a one-month pause in Tennessee’s 4% sales tax on groceries when he unveils his amendments to the annual spending plan for the budget year starting on July 1.

When Republican lawmakers in 2020 proposed a two-month “food tax holiday,” the proposal was estimated to cost the state about $100 million in forgone revenue.

Legislative Democrats have urged Lee to consider a moratorium on the state’s 27.4 tax on each gallon of gasoline amid spiking prices at the pump. Senate Republicans earlier this year floated a one-year break on the state’s $35 license plate fees. The Revenue Department collected $359 million worth of tag registrations in 2021.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:+

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his proposal for a 30-day suspension of state and local grocery sales tax to provide direct financial relief to Tennesseans amid surging inflation nationwide.

“As Americans see their cost-of-living skyrocket amid historic inflation, suspending the grocery tax is the most effective way to provide direct relief to every Tennessean,” said Gov. Lee. “Our state has the ability to put dollars back in the pockets of hardworking Tennesseans, and I thank members of the General Assembly for their continued partnership in maintaining our fiscally conservative approach.” 

The Governor’s proposal to suspend state and local sales tax on groceries for 30 days will be included in the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget amendment, which will be delivered on Tuesday, March 29.

Lee will host a roundtable with business leaders in Covington today, Thursday, March 24, to discuss the tax cut proposal and hear about the local impacts of nationwide economic challenges.

New TNJ alert: Will lawmaker’s guilty plea spur ethics overhaul?

Reps. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) and Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) are sworn into the 112th General Assembly on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— It took months after the Tennessee Waltz bribery sting to overhaul ethics laws. Will latest scandal prompt quicker response?

— Legislative roundup: Residency requirements, AG confirmation, pipeline priority, and Confederate artifacts.

— From the campaign trail: Hargett’s chief of staff leaving to run Lee re-elect, Curcio hanging ‘em up.

— Obituaries: Former Shelby County sheriff and a perennial candidate.

Also: Lee isn’t sold on gas tax moratorium, Nashville DA finds no evidence former vax chief sent muzzle to herself, Curcio calls investigative reporter a “silly person,” and liquor store owners complain of getting hammered.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Report: Calfee says he heard Casada offer generalship during voucher impasse

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) speaks with Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the House chamber on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Kent Calfee tells the Tennessee Lookout’s Sam Stockard he heard then-House Speaker Glen Casada propose a generalship to Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle in return for backing a controversial school voucher proposal in 2019.

With a vote knotted at 49-49 in 2019, Casada infamously kept the board open for 45 minutes to try to persuade someone to switch their position and keep first-year Gov. Bill Lee’s signature bill from an embarrassing defeat.

Calfee (R-Kingston) said he was standing on the balcony outside the House chamber when he heard Casada (R-Franklin) make the pitch to Windle, a Livingston Democrat who is a colonel in the Tennessee National Guard.

“I heard Casada say, ‘I can’t promote you, but the governor can. I’ll call the governor,’” Calfee told the Lookout.

“Now, the governor and I have discussed that, because he also, he called me up to the office,” Calfee recounted. “He said, ‘You know, you’re kind of talking bad about me.’ I said I told the truth.”

Lee was asked by reporters this week about the alleged offer of a generalship to Windle. He said he didn’t know anything about it.

Windle didn’t change his opposition to the voucher bill. But the measure passed after Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) agreed to flip in favor of the bill after being assured his home county would be exempted from the measure.

Read Stockard’s full report here.

Lee budget assigns 20 more troopers to Shelby County

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee says his budget proposal would assign 20 more Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to Shelby County to help stem crime rates.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his proposed budget will fund 20 additional Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers for Shelby County as the administration focuses on proven crime prevention methods and addressing law enforcement staff shortages.

Gov. Lee will be in Memphis on Thursday, March 3, to do a ride-along with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Memphis Police Department with a brief media avail to follow.

“Violent crime has no place in Tennessee, period. To immediately strengthen public safety, we have to invest in evidence-based crime prevention methods and continue efforts to recruit and retain qualified law enforcement officers,” said Gov. Lee. “I commend the Memphis Police Department for their work to protect neighborhoods across the city and look forward to our continued partnership.”

Gov. Lee’s Fiscal Year 22-33 budget proposes key public safety investments, including proven crime prevention methods to directly support Memphis and Shelby County:

— 20 additional Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers for Shelby County funded 100% by the state.

— Creation of a $150 million Violent Crime Intervention Fund for law enforcement agencies across the state to invest in evidence-based programming and resources.

— $30 million to support relocation bonuses for out-of-state police officers seeking to move to Tennessee.

— Expansion of state funding for law enforcement basic training and increasing the frequency of training for new recruits.

— Access to a statewide hiring portal that includes qualified law enforcement recruits from outside of Tennessee who are looking to relocate.

Read more about Gov. Lee’s statewide public safety agenda here.

New TNJ edition alert: Redistricting lawsuit, oral arguments over vouchers, 5th District field grows

The latest edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— Democratic lawsuit claims GOP remap unlawful for county splits, district numbers.

— Likely swing vote silent in Supreme Court rehash of voucher arguments.

— Harwell, Winstead join 5th District race despite Trump endorsement.

— Slatery slams legislative proposal to move consumer advocate office.

— After pandemic-related stagnation, lobbying spending on rise in 2021.

Also:

Lee unveils details of proposed overhaul of school funding formula, Juneteenth holiday runs into House roadblock, HBO’s John Oliver mocks John Ragan, and a fee to access to the Sunsphere observation deck.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Lee unveils details of school funding overhaul

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee is unveiling his proposal to overhaul the state’s school funding formula.

Here’s the release from the Education Department:

Nashville, TN –  Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn released the details of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act (SB2396/HB2143) that would transition Tennessee’s K-12 public schools to a student-based funding approach. Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which includes $1 billion in new recurring state funds and $750 million in one-time state funds this year.

The TISA will update the way Tennessee funds public education for the first time in over 30 years to empower each student to read proficiently by third grade, prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success, and provide resources needed to all students to ensure they succeed. Under the TISA districts would receive more than they would under the BEP should enrollment remain stable. Access an overview PowerPoint presentation of the TISA and associated bill language here. To learn more about the student-based funding formula, visit FundingforStudentSuccess.org.

“The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula will be a powerful tool the state can use to ensure we are putting all students on a path to success,” said Governor Bill Lee. “By serving our students well and giving the public greater insight into how their tax dollars are supporting students, the TISA represents an exciting opportunity to improve educational outcomes, strengthen our workforce and propel Tennessee forward.”

“Updating our public education funding model is an investment in our state’s students and our state’s future,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Months of public feedback highlighted how committed Tennesseans are to strengthening how we fund public education, and the TISA puts the focus of education funding right where it belongs – on students.”

The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement is a student-based funding formula that will include the following proposed investments for each of these components: 

— $6.6 billion for base funding for every public school student.

— $1.8 billion in additional funding to be allocated based on weights to address specific student needs.

— $376 million in direct funding for students to receive additional funding allocations to support specific programs, like tutoring.

— $100 million in outcomes funding to be awarded based on achievement to empower schools to help all students reach their full potential.

Additionally, the TISA has reporting and district accountability requirements, including an annual TISA report delivered to the Tennessee General Assembly by the department and individual district-level accountability reports to be submitted by local school boards to the department to establish goals for student achievement in the current school year, explain how the goals can be met within the local budget, and describe how the local budget and expenditures for prior school years enabled districts to progress student outcomes.

Here’s a look at the partisan breakdown of Tennessee’s new congressional districts

It all fits together somehow.

Tennessee voters in the 2020 presidential election preferred Republican Donald Trump by double digits in eight of the state’s nine congressional districts under the new maps recently signed into law.

The 2018 U.S. Senate race results are somewhat more encouraging for the minority party, as Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Marsha Blackburn were essentially tied in what is now the 5th District, while the GOP candidate won the 7th district by just over 1 point. But that was a somewhat unique race featuring a popular former governor and a divisive Republican congresswoman. The same year’s governor’s race may prove to be more of a guide for future performance, as Republican Bill Lee beat Democrat Karl Dean by 11 points in both the 5th and 7th Districts.

Here is a look at the Republican advantage in the newly drawn districts over four recent statewide races:

District2016 President2018 Governor2018 Senate2020 President
1st+57+53+43+54
2nd+35+28+15+30
3rd+35+29+19+32
4th+42+33+24+38
5th+17+110+12
6th+32+20+11+30
7th+17+11+1+15
8th+39+37+28+37
9th-47-44-52-48

Who did ‘America at Its Best’ better?

For longtime State of the State watchers, Gov. Bill Lee’s speech on Monday night had something of a familiar ring to it. A recurring theme was the state slogan “Tennessee — America at Its Best.” Lee’s predecessor, Bill Haslam, also made the phrase the focus of the final State of the State address of his first term in office back in 2014.

Here are some excerpts of the respective governor’s rhetorical flourishes about state slogan:

Haslam in 2014Lee in 2022
As I begin my fourth year in office, I am convinced that Tennessee – America at Its Best is not just a 50-year-old slogan.  Over the years, leaders have reminded Tennesseans that America at Its Best is more than our slogan – it’s our north star. However, America at Its Best means something different today than it did in 1965 or even in the last decade.  
Expecting great outcomes will ensure that Tennessee is America at its best. Tennessee fulfills America at Its Best because of our optimism.  
For Tennessee to be America at its best, we must get health care right – for those who need health care coverage and for the long-term fiscal health of our state.  I am proposing a budget and America-at-its-best policies that reinforce freedom, innovation, exceptionalism, and optimism.  
Tennessee is America at its best because we employ one of the best tax strategies of all time – common sense.  If we are to embody America at Its Best, that starts with acknowledging that it is our creator who endows us with freedom, and the government merely maintains that freedom.  
Being America at its best means not doing government business the way we’ve always done it before.  Tennessee – America at Its Best embraces both sides of the coin: we acknowledge our shortcomings but build on our best.  
In the year 2025, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree beyond high school to get a job. Today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify. To truly be America at its best, that’s not good enough.  In Tennessee, there’s no reason why our institutions of higher learning can’t be an exceptional part of America at Its Best.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Randy Boyd for taking a leave of absence from his company and dedicating a year of his life – at no cost to the state – to work on this. He did it because he loves our state, and he wants Tennessee to be America at its best.  We are also proud to propose a series of research investments to ensure we stay on track to be America at Its Best.  
In Tennessee, we truly are America at its best.May we ensure that the beacon that is Tennessee – America at Its Best – shines brighter than ever before.

Read Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Thank you very much. Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 112th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers.

I first want to acknowledge someone who for the last three years has been a steadfast partner to me in this journey.

She has also been a faithful friend to Tennesseans in distressed counties through her Tennessee Serves initiative.

I’m so proud of the work she has done to provide underserved Tennesseans hundreds of thousands of meals, thousands of backpacks, and thousands of shoes for school children.

Tennesseans are proud of you, and I’m proud of you, Maria, our First Lady.

A spirit of humble service matters in times of trial, and it matters in times of prosperity. So I also want to thank members of my Cabinet and staff who are here tonight who have served Tennesseans tirelessly over the last year. I’m thankful for each one of you. Thank you.

To everyone here and to everyone listening across this state, it is the highest honor I have to serve as your governor. I am grateful that you have allowed me to serve in this position.

We stand here today in a different place than we were a year ago, but our gratitude to Tennesseans is unchanged. You have kept this state moving forward.

Tennesseans like the members of the National Guard who have met the worst of circumstances with grit, and yet also provided comfort. Nurses and other health care workers who have cared for the sick. Teachers and administrators who have taught our children. Troopers and police officers and sheriffs deputies who patrol the roads and keep our neighborhoods safe.

Small businesses who have kept their doors open and workers who have worked extra hours to keep our economy moving. You are what makes Tennessee exceptional.

Last June, we commenced Untold Tennessee, a celebration of how the ordinary makes us extraordinary, to commemorate 225 years of statehood. Folks along the way this year have shared with me the deep connection they feel to Tennessee.

Folks like my friend Wally Childress, whose family owns a century farm, Childress Farms, in West Tennessee, and has grown thousands of acres of crops since 1906. Wally and Tracy are with us here tonight. We thank you for representing generations of families that have helped make Tennessee what it is. Please stand up, Wally and Tracy Childress.

For 225 years, Tennessee has been a beacon to those who wanted something more and needed a frontier to build their American dream. In 1965, the General Assembly recognized this and passed a resolution to adopt the state slogan: “Tennessee – America at Its Best”.

Over the years, leaders have reminded Tennesseans that America at Its Best is more than our slogan – it’s our north star. However, America at Its Best means something different today than it did in 1965 or even in the  last decade.

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Lee gives preview of State of the State address, Dems deliver prebuttal

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is giving a preview of his fourth State of the State address on Monday evening. Democrats, meanwhile, are giving a prebuttal to the governor’s priories for the year.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released the following speech excerpts ahead of his fourth State of the State Address that will be delivered tonight at 6 p.m. CT in the House Chamber of the Tennessee State Capitol.

The 2022 address will pay homage to 225 years of statehood by building on the state slogan “Tennessee – America at Its Best”.

Defining “America at Its Best”

Today, our country faces challenges of a different kind, but I believe now more than ever, Tennessee embodies America at Its Best. And in order to ensure that, I am proposing a budget and America at Its Best policies that reinforce freedom, innovation, exceptionalism and optimism.

Guarding Freedom

In recent history, big government has attempted to take over society instead of contributing to it. That’s no way to live, and Tennessee has pushed back on that big government. In fact, Tennessee has recently been ranked as one of the top five freest states in the country.

Protecting Life, Supporting Families

My office has proposed and supported some of the soundest pro-life legislation in the country. Thanks to our partners in the legislature, we passed thoughtful laws that protected the unborn and supported expecting mothers. If the federal courts return full authority to the states, Tennessee’s laws will automatically provide the maximum possible protection and offer a glimmer of redemption as America reconciles our troubled past. I believe Tennessee can be a major part of that reconciliation by offering both hope and resources to families in crisis.

Fiscal Stewardship

We pay a staggering $900 million dollars per day in national debt interest payments. This is a bipartisan problem working within a broken system, but states with balanced budgets offer a guide to what could be if Washington would just act. While Washington saddles our kids with trillions of dollars of debt, Tennessee’s strong fiscal position allows us to instead invest on their behalf.

Powering the Economy

Make no mistake – Tennessee is “Working People USA” and we will do whatever it takes to train and retrain Tennesseans so that both our businesses and our families can thrive.

And here is the video response from House Democratic Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie of Nashville: